From the Pastor’s Desk | November 18, 2018

frsamDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Continuing our reflection on the nature of Catholic funerals, I would like to return again to the most essential facet of these rites surrounding death. As a Church, our great spiritual foundation is profoundly sacramental. As death approaches, it is especially appropriate for the Anointing of the Sick to be celebrated. It should be emphasized that this sacrament does not in any way meant that death is imminent – in fact, it is meant to be received anytime one’s physical health suffers, before surgery, during hospital stays, etc. In a particular way though, the Anointing of the Sick is also meant to prepare the soul to meet God. The prayers offered during this sacrament bring comfort to the dying. Most especially, the absolution of sin that can be part of this sacrament is essential. No one should be denied the opportunity to receive this sacrament in their final hours! I suggest that we all communicate to our loved ones that our wish would be for a priest to be called to administer this sacrament should we be in extreme need.

With this sacramental foundation, we turn again to the funeral Mass itself. The celebration of the Mass is the highest form of prayer that the Church can offer. The funeral Mass is offered first and foremost for the repose of the soul of the deceased person. Every Catholic ought to have a funeral Mass! To offer the Eucharist, the Church’s prayer of Thanksgiving, the prayer which unites us most perfectly to the Cross of Jesus Christ, the Cross which is the instrument of death’s defeat, is indeed the most perfect way to pray for those who have died.

Today however, this primary purpose of the funeral Mass is often lost. Many people think of the funeral primarily as a memorial service. Being good-natured and genuinely concerned for their friends and family, many people say that they want the funeral to be a celebration and they want everyone to laugh and have fun. This desire, in itself, is beautiful and generally unobjectionable but for two important things: (1) the funeral Mass is the Church’s prayer for the repose of the soul of the deceased, and (2) the emotion of grief is natural and should not be ignored, delayed, or glossed over. The funeral Mass is not intended by the Catholic Church to be a memorial service. Rather, the memories we hold dear are meant to fuel our prayer – inspired by the memories of our deceased loved one, we pray in thanksgiving for their life. Inspired by the faith that they held – or if they were not particularly devout, the faith that we hold – we pray that the gift of Christ’s Resurrection and mercy would lead them into Paradise.

The tendency to view funerals as memorial services has led to a bad “pastoral” practice, namely the inclusion of eulogies in funeral Masses. A eulogy, by definition, is an oration in praise of the deceased. The Rite of Christian Burial, however, explicitly forbids eulogies (Order of Christian Funerals 27). Rather, words of remembrance may be shared at the wake, during the Mass after Communion, or at the graveside. These words of remembrance are intended to speak briefly about the faith of the deceased person and remind those gathered to allow the faith of the deceased to inspire their own faith. Too often, eulogies become long biographies, detailing an individual’s education, family history, vacations, culinary prowess, personality quirks, and very often include anecdotes that contain details or language simply inappropriate for church. Often, it seems that people are impatient to get through Mass so they can get to the really important thing, the eulogy. Everyone, naturally, wants good things to be said about them after they die. And those memories and stories need to be shared! But the funeral Mass is simply the wrong time and place for them to be shared. They should instead be shared during the wake, or at a reception, or during gatherings of friends and family. There are countless moments when it is appropriate to eulogize. The funeral Mass, however, is not meant to praise the person (as a eulogy is), but to praise God for the gift of life, to pray for His mercy to be poured out abundantly, and to pray that the deceased enjoy eternal rest in God’s heavenly kingdom. Hyper-focus on eulogies deprives us of the fullness of the Church’s true pastoral ministry in prayer and accompaniment.

This may turn out to be the least-popular thing I have ever written. I write it because we have lost sight of what the funeral is meant to be. I hope that we can recover the true meaning of our Catholic celebrations surrounding death. I hope that a proper understanding and practice of words of remembrance can help us to grieve appropriately and to keep our attention fixed on Jesus Christ, the one who promises salvation. I hope that putting eulogies in their proper place (outside of Mass) can help us appreciate more deeply what the sacrament of the Eucharist gives us in times of sadness and how it enables us to pray even in the face of death. I hope that by reflecting on the liturgical rites of the Church, we can better understand the meaning and symbolism of the Church’s prayer and thus receive through that prayer the comfort, healing, and grace that God so desperately wants to give to those who mourn.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

From the Pastor’s Desk | November 11, 2018

frsamDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As you know, the Church prays for all the deceased in a special way during the month of November. We will continue our reflection on the funeral rites of the Church throughout this month. Last week, we were reminded that the funeral serves a twofold purpose: to pray for the salvation of the deceased person and to help those who mourn offer thanksgiving, find hope, and recall the promise of the resurrection. With that in mind, it is worth reflecting on how the Catholic Church’s funeral rites are structured. The Rite of Christian Burial is a three-part liturgy.

The liturgy begins with the Vigil for the Deceased, commonly called the wake. While a wake usually lasts several hours, the liturgical prayer offered during that time is very brief, and serves to set the tone for the evening. “We believe that all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death.” (Vigil for the Deceased—Rite of Christian Burial 71). Reminded of this truth, during the wake we have an opportunity for friends and family to come together to pray, remember the life of the deceased, and prepare for the funeral Mass the next day. The wake is a moment to pay respects, to share memories and stories, and to comfort one another.

The Mass of Christian Burial ordinarily takes place the day after the wake. In this Mass, the Church reminds us of our hope that those who have faith will share in the Resurrection of Jesus. Rooted in the symbolism of baptism, the casket is sprinkled with holy water, covered with a white cloth, and placed before the Easter candle. The Scripture readings point us to God’s mercy and remind us that Jesus has triumphed over sin and death. A homily serves to focus our attention on the fact that, for the Christian, death is not the end, but a new beginning of life, and thus we, as a community of faith, have a responsibility to pray for the eternal salvation of the deceased. The proper title for a funeral Mass is “Mass of Christian Burial”—other names (e.g. celebration of life, mass of resurrection) should not be used.

The Rite of Committal follows the Mass and takes place at the cemetery. Burial reflects our Catholic belief in the dignity of the body, and our anticipation of the resurrection of the dead. Short prayers are said at the graveside and mourners are able to say a final goodbye to their loved one. The burial of the body provides a visible moment of closure and an end to the funeral rites of the Church.

These three liturgical moments are vital in the Church’s ministry and pastoral practice. They provide structure and guidance for our prayer when faced with death, allow us to properly entrust the soul of our beloved deceased to the mercy of God, and give us comfort in the familiarity of ritual. Next week’s reflection will use this foundational explanation of the structure of the Rite of Christian Burial to explain other elements of how the Church prays for the dead and ministers to the grieving.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

From the Pastor’s Desk | November 4, 2018

frsamDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the wake of the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh we are confronted with the horror of violence and hatred and come face-to-face with the depravity of man. It goes without saying that anti-Semitism is to be condemned in any and all forms. In this particular context, we stand in solidarity with the members of that synagogue as well as with our Jewish neighbors here in the greater-Fairfield area. As the month of November begins, we Catholics are called in a special way to lift up prayers for the dead. We celebrate the solemnity of All Saints and the great feast of All Souls and in this way begin a month dedicated to carrying out one of the most important Christian responsibilities related to the end of life. As this month begins, let us pray for those men and women who lost their lives in Pittsburgh and commit ourselves to peace.

When death is before us, we experience a variety of emotions, some conditioned by the nature of our relationship with the deceased. Grief is always an appropriate response to death, though we sometimes fear the sadness entailed in the grief process. Grief over death is natural and healthy. At the same time, we may experience anger, frustration, or relief. The emotional response to death is as varied as the people who are confronted with death. There is, however, a proper Christian response that the Church calls us to offer in the midst of this grief. That response is hope-filled prayer, the carrying out of the spiritual work of mercy, to pray for the dead.

This spiritual work of mercy is vital. Regardless of the faith of the deceased, we who live are called to pray for them. There are countless prayers for the dead that we may use. Naturally, spontaneous prayers for those who have died are also an excellent way to carry out this spiritual work of mercy. When the deceased is a Catholic, the Church provides us with a particular liturgical expression of our prayer, the Order of Christian Funerals. In this powerful rite “the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist” (Order of Christian Funerals 4).  Thus we see the purpose of the funeral—we who are Catholic are charged with the responsibility of interceding for the salvation of the deceased. In our grief, the Church accompanies us in prayer and sacrament.

Additionally, the celebration of a funeral Mass is an act of thanksgiving for the life of the deceased. Indeed, the word “eucharist” comes from the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” During the funeral Mass, we not only give thanks to God for the gift of life, the Church also “commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins” (OCF 6). The Church seeks to balance the full range of emotions and realities that come up in the face of death. For example, when I die, I sincerely hope that people will remember me in a positive light and will be grateful for my life. At the same time, I am well aware of my sinfulness, my need for God’s mercy, and that my imperfections are very real. I also know that people (at least some) will be sad. Fortunately, the funeral allows for all of these realities. In the funeral it is possible to pray in thanksgiving for what is good, to pray for forgiveness for what is bad, and to pray for comfort in sorrow—to the Church, none of these prayers are mutually exclusive. “While proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and witnessing to Christian hope in the resurrection, the funeral rites also recall to all who take part in them God’s mercy and judgment and meet the human need to turn always to God in times of crisis” (OCF 7).

Remembering our beloved deceased and all those who have died, let us raise up our prayers for their peaceful rest and entrust their souls to God’s abundant mercy. We will continue our reflection on the nature and purpose of the funeral liturgy in the coming weeks.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

From the Pastor’s Desk | October 28, 2018

frsamDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Thank you all for your generosity and support last weekend as we began our final push for the We Stand With Christ campaign. You pledged over $300,000—a truly incredible show of sacrificial giving! Over 200 families have participated in the campaign and many more are prayerfully considering a gift. I can never adequately express my gratitude for what you are all doing for our parish community, but let me again say thank you! Some people have expressed concern about committing to a pledge over 3 to 5 years, and have shared with me that they are worried they cannot participate in the campaign as a result. Please allow me to clarify: every gift is gratefully received, whether a multi-year pledge or a one-time offering, and everyone in the parish is invited to participate in this extraordinary endeavor in the way that is best for them. We Stand With Christ is not about equal giving, but about participation. We, the parish community of St. Pius X, are all in this together. I do not want this effort to become a reason for anyone feeling excluded. Again, I thank you all for your goodness and for the generosity that you show again and again.

As we move into the month of November, we enter a time that the Church has traditionally observed as a time to remember those who have gone before us in faith. We begin the month with the great solemnity of All Saints, followed by the feast of All Souls. The Church invites us to reflect on those heroes of the faith whose virtue and holiness is known to all, the saints whose example teaches us what it means to follow Christ with our whole hearts. All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation. On October 31 (Halloween – All Hallows Eve), the vigil Mass for All Saints will be celebrated at 5:30 PM. On November 1, Masses for All Saints Day take place at 8:30 AM, 5:30 PM, and 7:30 PM. This last Mass of the day will be a Solemn High Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, that is, in Latin. We look forward to celebrating this great solemnity with you as we remember the communion of saints.

Please mark your calendars for our annual Mass of Remembrance on November 14 at 7PM. During this Mass, we pray for and remember those who have died in the last year and we pray for their peaceful rest. I am struck each year as I read the names of the deceased, many of whom I buried and whose families I know well. It is a reminder that, as we say in the funeral Mass, “life is changed, not ended” and we look forward in hope to the day of the Resurrection.

Over the next few weeks, I will use this space to reflect on what we as Catholics believe about death and the prayerful response of the Church to the reality of death. In particular, I will offer a catechesis on the Rite of Christian Burial, the Church’s liturgy in a time of grief. The funeral is an often misunderstood element of the Church’s pastoral ministry, and I hope that the reflections offered here will help to clarify any confusion and give us all a healthy spiritual perspective for facing the challenging reality of death and grief. Our hope remains always in Jesus Christ, the one who conquers sin and death and promises us the gift of eternal life in heaven!

Peace,

Fr. Sam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Pastor’s Desk |October 21, 2018

frsamDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

James and John exhibit their typical boldness in the Gospel this weekend. At first glance, their request to sit at the right and left of Jesus in His kingdom may seem to be motivated by a desire for position or prestige. But if we read carefully, we see that they make this request out of love for Jesus. Remember, these same disciples were outraged that Jesus was rejected by the Samaritan town and wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume the place (cf. Luke 9:54). Seeing Jesus rejected causes them great offense and pain. James and John love Jesus and have a profound faith in His promise of eternal life. In their great zeal, they do not understand what they are asking, and so our Lord explains that their salvation and place in the Kingdom will come through suffering like His, through the conformity of their lives to His. Hearing this, the other Apostles are upset because they interpret the request as one for prestige, privilege, and power, instead of as it is genuinely intended (though with a lack of understanding). And so Jesus teaches the true meaning of power. Power, greatness, authority, are not to be wielded for their own sake, nor are they to be lorded over others. Rather, power and authority exist for service. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).

Power and authority present a great challenge and temptation if we lack a proper Christian understanding of how they are to be used. Jesus tells us that authority or power is not to be lorded over others, but rather placed at their service. His intention and desire is that in the Church, “power” be used, not in a worldly way, but for the good of the whole community. The true power of the Church is sacramental, that is, it brings God’s true power to bear on the world, the power that sanctifies, blesses, inspires, heals, and saves. Sometimes authority or power must be exercised to correct behavior or clarify teaching. This is not authority for the sake of authority, but for the sake of truth. For example, a math teacher who allows students to believe that 2+2=5 fails to exercise legitimate power and authority that should lead to truth. A parent who allows their child to throw rocks at the neighbor’s child fails to exercise legitimate power and authority that should lead to right behavior (and safety!). A priest or pastor who remains silent, refusing to speak about important issues or questions fails to exercise the legitimate power and authority that should lead to the salvation of his community. Jesus undoubtedly gives power and authority to the Apostles. But this power and authority is not for their sake, but for the salvation of the whole Church, for those who are powerless and in need.

The existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that the “will to power” was the driving force operative in all people and institutions. For him, the will to power inspired in people the desire for prestige and high position. This philosophical outlook colors the way in which we, today, interpret power and authority. We tend to view it in secular terms, which leads many to worship the false idol of political power. In an ecclesial context, this understanding can lead people to view leadership roles (such as bishop and priest) as the highest goal of the Catholic, or as the only way to have influence. This attitude did not originate with Nietzsche, of course, as we can see it present throughout history in various ways both secular and religious. Jesus teaches an understanding of power and authority that is directly opposed to the will to power. Especially within the Church, all power, all authority must be exercised only for the sanctification, guidance, and service of the whole community. The priesthood, episcopacy, and even papacy are not offices to be served, but are rather offices that exist to proclaim the love and mercy of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ who came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life for the salvation of the world.

Peace,

Fr. Sam